Our hopes and fears for Guillermo del Toro’s At The Mountains Of Madness

With At The Mountains Of Madness, author HP Lovecraft could finally get the adaptation he deserves. Here are our hopes and fears for the forthcoming movie…

At The Mountains Of Madness

If there’s one horror author whose work deserves a decent mainstream cinema adaptation, it’s that 30s master of tentacle-filled fear, HP Lovecraft. Something of a specialist in short fiction, At The Mountains Of Madness was one of Lovecraft’s longest and most highly regarded works.

Published in three consecutive issues of Astounding Stories in 1936, Mountains is a finely wrought masterpiece of icy fear, and sees Lovecraft’s distinctive, florid prose at its most potent. Set among the freezing wastes of Antarctica, the story is told from the perspective of geologist Dyer, a professor from the mythical Miskatonic University, whose quest for knowledge brings him into contact with terrifying beings older than humanity itself.

Mountains‘ perfectly realised atmosphere could be due, at least in part, to Lovecraft’s physical intolerance to cold. The author once collapsed in the street due to a sudden temperature drop, and had to be dragged to the safety of a nearby shop to recover.

That Lovecraft’s magnum opus has never been adapted into a film before is unsurprising given the grand sweep of the source material. To really do the story justice, huge sets and matte paintings would have to be built in order to depict the gargantuan city the author describes:

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“The effect was that of a Cyclopean city of no architecture known to man or to human imagination, with vast aggregations of night-black masonry embodying monstrous perversions of geometrical laws. There were truncated cones, sometimes terraced or fluted, surmounted by tall cylindrical shafts here and there bulbously enlarged and often capped with tiers of thinnish scalloped disks; and strange beetling, table-like constructions suggesting piles of multitudinous rectangular slabs or circular plates or five-pointed stars with each one overlapping the one beneath.”

While At The Mountains Of Madness has, for decades, remained as words on paper, the story’s influence is all over John W. Campbell, Jr.’s short story Who Goes There?, already adapted twice as The Thing From Another World in 1951, and The Thing in 1982, with a prequel/remake (again called The Thing) due out later this year. Also set in the Antarctic, both the short story and John Carpenter’s classic 1982 film evoke a similar air of creeping dread found in Lovecraft’s novella.

Some 75 years after Mountains‘ publication, director Guillermo del Toro is adapting Lovecraft’s story for the big screen, with Hollywood mogul James Cameron stepping in as producer.

For those of us who have been waiting patiently for a serious, sympathetic Lovecraft adaptation to appear in cinemas, the interest of del Toro can only be a good thing. His knowledge and appreciation of Lovecraft has been seen time and again in his earlier films. The tentacled Behemoth that appears at the conclusion of Hellboy, for example, appears to have sprung directly from the author’s Cthulhu mythos.

The presence of Cameron is similarly positive, from both a financial and creative standpoint. With his name attached to the picture, the Mountains film will get the requisite budget, and will, we hope, encourage the people in suits to leave the story’s bleak conclusion intact.

Last Thursday, Cameron talked enthusiastically about the film’s progress, and his own appreciation of Lovecraft. “We’re both Lovecraft fans,” Cameron said. “Me from my college days, when I discovered Lovecraft. I think I read everything he wrote in about a month. I powered through it. And if anybody can bring Lovecraft to the screen, it’s gonna be del Toro.

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“He’s got a real vision for the film. It’s very, very well developed in his mind. You know, I’m just there to facilitate his vision. I don’t have any strong sense of authorship, zero sense of authorship. I’m just there to try to get it made and help him do the movie that’s in his head.”

At almost exactly the same time, Ron Perlman, promoting his latest film Season Of The Witch, talked about what could be his next role, a “dog sled dude” called Larson in Mountains.

“The movie takes place in the North Pole, and so I’m on board as this sort of dog sled dude. I spend my entire life with these dogs. So, I’m a rough guy, among all these scientists,” Perlman told io9.com. “I’m a contrast to the deeply intellectual world that’s being explored. I live outside all the time. I live in the elements. I’m a no-bullshit kind of guy in a world of guys who just live in their heads. So, it’s a beautiful role to play, given that backdrop. I kick some butt. I hope we get a chance to do it.”

Given that both del Toro and Cameron are fans of Lovecraft, and that the former’s artistic style and temperament mesh perfectly with the author’s atmospheric writing, there’s every reason to be hugely optimistic of the Mountains Of Madness movie being a great one.

There’s a possibility, I suppose, that it could all go dreadfully wrong. One of the wonderful things about Lovecraft’s work was the formless nature of its unspeakable creatures and weird architecture. There’s a chance that, once realised with computers and models, del Toro and his effects team’s interpretation of the author’s otherworldly monsters will lose some of their exotic allure.

At the same time, we know that the legendary Dennis Muren, whose pioneering work has appeared in Star Wars, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, is in charge of the special effects on Mountains. I can’t wait to see what tentacle-laden abominations he comes up with.

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It’s thought that At The Mountains Of Madness will commence shooting some time this year. del Toro himself has said that, with this film, “I’m putting all the chips I have accumulated in 20 years as a director, betting them on a single number. […] It’s do or die time for me.”

We hope the gamble pays off for del Toro, and await the finished movie with fingers and tentacles firmly crossed.

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